Skip to main content

Passengers head down the stairs to the TTC subway system at Union Station on Jan. 3, 2019.

Fred Lum

Living in a big city means coping with some obnoxious forms of humanity, from the motorist who speeds through red lights to the smoker who treats the sidewalk as an ashtray. But surely one of the worst is the transit rider who doesn’t pay the fare.

Fare evaders are a sneaky bunch. In Toronto, some get hold of child Presto cards that allow those under 13 to ride free. Others “tailgate” – slip in behind the person in front when going through those paddle-style fare gates in transit stations. Still others just get on board and try to look inconspicuous.

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) estimates that 15.9 per cent of streetcar riders skip paying. Now that riders tap in instead of using tokens and transfers, it’s easier for cheats. Who is going to notice if they don’t tap their Presto cards, especially now that people board streetcars from all doors and drivers are more insulated and less watchful? A new TTC report says that some people even use social media to warn other commuters that fare inspectors are coming.

Story continues below advertisement

Fare evaders may convince themselves they are doing no harm. What does it matter if a huge organization is out a few bucks? But, of course, they are robbing everyone around them.

By depriving the TTC of desperately needed revenue – $73.5-million last year, by the most recent estimate – they make it harder for the transit service to keep its vehicles in shape and run enough of them to meet the demand from riders.

What is worse, they undermine the fragile civility that makes cities work. When millions of people are living side by side in a small space, you need some rules. In successful cities, residents pay their taxes, stop for red lights, shovel their snow, line up for service and tap for their bus ride. When that web of mutually agreed behaviour falls apart, you have trouble.

The TTC is justifiably worried. Its new report suggests making Presto readers more reliable and easy to find so riders aren’t tempted to avoid paying, pushing a “pay-your-fair-share” message in public communications and putting more TTC agents at busy subway station entrances.

The TTC is already hiring more fare inspectors to deter evasion. Special transit constables are there to back them up.

Some transit advocates find this objectionable. There was a flurry on outline outrage on Friday when a video clip circulated showing TTC constables tussling with a man on the Queen streetcar. Though the clip showed only a confusing fragment of the encounter, some city councillors rushed to judgment. Kristyn Wong-Tam tweeted that “the actual offence, if any, doesn’t even matter anymore. This is not how the TTC should be treating riders.” Police laid charges against the man. The TTC is investigating.

To others the very notion of cracking down on fair evasion is wrong. The TTCriders group said the Feb. 11 TTC report “unfairly places blame on ‘fare evasion behaviour’ and not the rising cost of transit in an increasingly unaffordable city.” The idea seems to be that riders are declining to pay because they have no choice: the $3.10 fare is too steep and life in Toronto just too expensive. Instead of cracking down on evaders, these critics argue, why not give the TTC more money? In fact, why not just reduce the fare to zero?

Story continues below advertisement

In a better world, wonderful. In the one we have now, the TTC needs those fares. Saying you won’t pay because you think the fare is too high is no different than stealing a shirt because you think the store is charging too much. Theft raises costs for everyone, rich and poor. It is unfair to those who follow the rules, take their civic obligations seriously and pay up.

Fare cheats aren’t making a political statement, they are making a choice. They are choosing to put their own interests first, no matter what the ultimate cost to their fellow riders and their city. That is plain wrong and most evaders know it.

Related topics

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies